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Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan, Vol. I.

John L. Stephens

Book Overview: 

The year is 1838. The scene is the dense Honduran forest along the Copán River. Two men, John Lloyd Stephens and Frederick Catherwood, are about to rediscover Mayan civilization. Their guide, slashing through the rampant growth with his machete, leads them to a structure with steps up the side, shaped like a pyramid. Next they see a stone column, fourteen feet high, sculptured on the front with a portrait of a man, “solemn, stern and well fitted to excite terror,” covered on the sides with hieroglyphics, and with workmanship “equal to the finest monuments of the Egyptians.” Stephens records these discoveries and also his travels in Central America, where he had been sent by President Van Buren as special ambassador to the ill-fated Republic of Central America. The republic being engulfed in civil war when Stephens arrives in Guatemala, he finds himself dodging revolutionary armies while he hunts for a “legitimate government” to which to present his credentials. Catherwood, meanwhile, directs his immense artistic talent to illustrating views of Mayan architecture. Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan was a best seller in its day and has been called an “Indiana Jones” saga by modern reviewers.

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Book Excerpt: 
. . .and even though all these processes were right and regular, there might be some other fault of omission or commission which we were not aware of; besides which, climate and atmosphere had great influence, and might render all of no avail. These little suggestions we considered necessary to prevent too great a disappointment in case of failure; and perhaps our fair visiters were somewhat surprised at our audacity in undertaking at all such a doubtful experiment, and using them as instruments. The result, however, was enough to induce us never again to adopt prudential measures, for the young lady's image was stamped upon the plate, and made a picture which enchanted her and satisfied the critical judgment of her friends and admirers.

Our experiments upon the other ladies were equally successful, and the morning glided away in this pleasant occupation.

We continued practising a few days longer; and as all our good results w. . . Read More

Community Reviews

This is travel, the old way. I recommend this book for the modern traveler who is serious about chronicling his adventures. While the methods are old, the author's techniques are easily adapted to our modern times with a camera and journal. This is for the traveler who takes the time to meet the...more

John Stevens and Frederick Catherwood's travels in the Maya lands became famous as soon as they were published in the mid-1850s. These travel stories intrigued readers with their detailed descriptions of exotic landscapes and enigmatic people. Stevens (US) was the writer and Catherwood (Great Bri...more

BOOKS ABOUT YUCATÁN: The best book of any kind about the Yucatán Peninsula, and it's more than 150 years old. This is the book that made the Maya ruins of the region famous to the world. John Lloyd Stephens, a lawyer who found fame as a writer, wrote a series of travel books, including two about...more

I first read this book back in 1975 prior to my first visit to Mexico. While it is not so good as the same author's Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan, John Lloyd Stephens still maintains his keen sense of observation and excellent judgment: He knew a hundred years early that the Maya b...more

Definitely more of a great read when in the Yucatan. I was not in the Yucatan, however, at the time of reading this classic tale of intrepid Victorian travellers, nor have I ever been in the the Yucatan. And yes, the account is subjective to 19th century expectations, yet has that Indiana Jones f...more

I have always wanted to read John Lloyd Stephens' account of his travels through Central America with artist Frederick Catherwood, whose drawings of the Mayan ruins they "rediscovered" and documented have become iconic. This book is sort of a sequel to Stephens and Catherwood's first book, which...more

I had the good fortune to visit Uxmal and Palenque in 2015 and Quirigua and Copan in January of 2017 - all are sites visited by Stephens and his artist companion Frederick Catherwood in the 1830s. This book is highly recommended by the Maya archaeologist who conducted the tours. Stephens has a ve...more

It takes a lot for me to give a book five stars. I'd give this one six, if I could. First, however, let me state that this book isn't for everyone. I read it because, as a student of Maya history for 25 years, it's required. I should have read it sooner. It's the true story of two men who travele...more

This book (and vol. 2) is a classic of its type -- the Victorian travel account. Stephens was in fact the American ambassador to Central America. But because the region was convulsed by revolution he spent a lot of time traveling around in search of someone to submit his credentials to. And, for...more

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